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North Hills Monthly

History Comes Alive in Ligonier, PA

Apr 30, 2015 02:43PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Chevaux de frise helped protect Fort Ligonier from enemy attack

One of the best things about living in Pennsylvania is that even if you don’t have a lot of time, you can hop in the car and travel to somewhere unique. Ligonier, Pennsylvania is a prime example; located only an hour from Pittsburgh in the Laurel Highlands, this picturesque little town is filled with fine restaurants, numerous shopping opportunities, and a wealth of early American history.

You can’t help but become immersed in the area’s past because you drive right by Fort Ligonier on your way into the city from the Lincoln Highway (Rt. 30). The fort sits high up on a hill, surrounded by a picket wall which is protected in places by chevaux de frise; wooden lances driven through beams that cross each other at right angles to prevent anyone—except perhaps, intrepid tourists—from breaching the walls. It’s hard to describe how threatening  these obstacles are, but I imagine that they made quite an impression on the French troops and native warriors who were thwarted in their attempts to raid the fort, which at its height of occupation in 1758, held nearly 5,000 people.

The fort was constructed during the French and Indian War, and was the last in a chain of forts along Forbes Road to provide protection for soldiers. It was also used as a staging area from which they could attack Fort Duquesne to drive out the French; a successful campaign that resulted in the site being designated as Pittsburgh—good thing, or we’d all be speaking French today. The fort was used for 7-1/2 years before it was decommissioned from active service and fell into disrepair.

Today, Fort Ligonier is the only fully reconstructed fort in the region, and walking its grounds, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a place. Nestled in the area surrounding the fort are a blacksmith shop, hospital, smokehouse, bake ovens and sawmill; the fort itself includes an officers’ mess, soldiers’ barracks, a guardhouse, hospital, commissary and officers’ houses, and visitors can go inside of all of the buildings to have a first-hand experience. 

Of course, you can’t visit a fort without inspecting the artillery, and there are amazing reproductions on site, including a very impressive 8-inch howitzer (classified by the size of its exploding shell) with a bronze barrel, a six-pound garrison piece, similar to a ship’s cannon, and swivel guns and artillery guns for close-range battles.  

There is also an impressive range of weaponry within the Fort Ligonier Museum, including George Washington’s saddle pistols, which he is believed to have carried at Valley Forge, Monmouth, Yorktown, and during the Whiskey Rebellion. Because he had no heirs, the guns were given to Andrew Jackson, and later put up for auction. A fascinating copy of Washington’s remarks describing his six years on the Pennsylvania frontier is also on display; the museum also owns the original, which had been in a private collection for 20 years.

For those not familiar with the French and Indian War or the resulting Seven Years’ War, the museum is a wealth of information, explaining the fort’s history as well as the global conflict. Many original artifacts that were found on the fort’s grounds are on display, including a 257-year-old apple, which is a little worse for wear. The museum doesn’t just focus on the American side of the war, however; in The World Ablaze: An Introduction to the Seven Years’ War exhibit, 18th-century objects from around the world are on display, including weapons, clothing, jewelry, art, and even ‘trunk armor’ used to cover elephants in India. The museum also contains an impressive art gallery that includes portraits of well-known leaders of the time, including Queen Charlotte, King George II, William Pitt and more, captured by artists like Sir Joshua Reynolds, Allan Ramsay and Rembrandt Peale.

Many historic buildings make up the town of Ligonier, such as the turn-of-the-century Victorian home that houses the Ligonier Tavern, where you can enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner while enjoying the view from the balcony. I enjoyed a stay in the Thistledown at Seger House, a renovated 97-year-old Victorian home that was originally owned by coal baron John Seger and stayed in his family until 1944, when it was sold to the Allegheny County Sisters of Mercy for use as a hospital. Now fully renovated by owners Michelle and Adam Gardner, the B-n-B features the original stained glass and intricately carved woodwork of the time, as well as eight elegantly appointed rooms with private bathrooms, a yarn shop and an in-house café.

With more than 70 restaurants in the area to choose from, you have your choice of where to dine. But for a truly unique experience, I would recommend The Kitchen on Main, where you can actually watch your meal being prepared by Chef Josh Fryer, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Terri Johnson.

One tidbit—if you happen to be visiting Ligonier between September and March, make sure to sign up for a cooking class at the restaurant. In addition to learning some of Josh’s secrets—including his opinion that the difference between a good restaurant and a not-so-great one is the use of kosher salt and cracked black pepper—you also receive a copy of your meal’s recipes. And the food is fantastic; our meal consisted of butter poached lobster with avocado, vine ripe tomatoes, butter toasted croissant, a poached farm fresh egg and basil hollandaise, followed by slow roasted beef tenderloin with roasted mushroom and crispy shallot bread pudding, garlic wilted baby spinach and Applewood smoked bacon demi-glaze. Still hungry? The flourless chocolate cake with caramel and candied walnuts was divine.

Upcoming events in the area include Antiques on the Diamond on June 6, which will feature more than 50 dealers showcasing their wares. And mark your calendars—and make reservations now—for Fort Ligonier Days in October. More than 100,000 people flock to the small town during the three-day festival, which includes a parade and re-enactments.

For more information, visit To learn more about the places mentioned in this article, visit: 

Fort Ligonier and Fort Ligonier Museum:, 724-238-9701

The Kitchen on Main:, 724-238-4199

The Ligonier Tavern:, 724-238-4831

Thistledown at Seger House:, 724-238-4087